Fresh off their rally with charter school parents and students on October 7th, “Families” For Excellent Schools has announced that they will hold another rally on Wednesday the 21st of October. This rally, which will be held in Manhattan’s Foley Square, will reportedly feature nearly 1,000 charter school teachers predominantly from Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy network. While some teachers from Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, and KIPP are expected to be present, Ms. Moskowitz’s workforce will be the primary participants, and the network just so happens to have a scheduled half school day so that teachers can show up to the rally for the purpose of pressuring law makers into allowing more charter schools in the city. Chew on that for a moment: a scheduled half day of school. A political rally. The teachers in attendance.
I don’t know about you, but when my children’s unionized public school teachers take a half day, it is because they are in professional development workshops and related activities. They certainly are not being taken from their schools to a rally organized by a lobbying group funded specifically to increase their influence with lawmakers in City Hall and in Albany. In fact, try to imagine this scenario: Chancellor Farina organizes a half day of work for all city schools and then coordinates a rally for public schools with the UFT on the same day and 1000s of public school teachers, rather than using the half day for professional development, show up near city hall to provide the optics. If you can pretend for one second that Governor Cuomo would not be demanding that the Assembly and Senate hold hearings and seek potential sanctions against both the union and the Chancellor, I question your grip on reality.
It would be one thing for “Families” For Excellent Schools to organize political rallies for parents and supporters of charter schools to attend and to use that platform to advocate for more such schools. That is indisputably their right. It becomes much more questionable when those rallies are organized in such a way that Eva Moskowitz closes her schools during multiple rallies, leaving parents with no place to send their children and essentially forcing them to take a day from work to attend so that they and their children add to event’s optics. That is within their rights, but frankly, it is cheap and coercive. But now the network will use a half day of instruction to provide its teachers to send a political message on education policy. And considering the extraordinarily high pressure work environment at Success Academy that is also verified by job review sites, it is hard to believe that very many of the promised teachers for next week’s rally feel comfortable declining to participate.
And it is monstrously unethical: our fully public schools would spark legitimate outrage if they organized a school day around sending their employees to a political rally organized by a lobbyist organization. How can it be tolerable for Eva Moskowitz to use her employees, and students, and parents as window dressing for campaigns to funnel more and more public school funding and public school facilities into her organization that she has repeatedly refused to allow “outsiders” to hold her accountable? What Superintendent of schools has such authority?
It is important to remind ourselves that “Families” for Excellent Schools is a 501 (c) (3) “public charity” that is a front for billionaire backed efforts to radically privatize public education and break public sector unions. While tax exempt law forbids them from backing specific political campaigns, they are allowed to lobby and to “educate” the public which they do by funneling money from a variety of sources such as the Walton Family Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and Education Reform Now – another dark money financed organization connected with “Democrats” For Education Reform. “Families” For Excellent Schools suddenly shot up in revenue from June of 2013 when they reported $1,000,777 in revenue to June 2014 when they reported $12,265,162. Of that, an eye watering $9,137,910 was spent on campaign and advocacy activities, and while their 990 Schedule A cites no portion of their contributions from “individuals” giving more than 2% of total contributions — that means anyone could give $278,103 without it showing up in that part of the form.
This is supposed to be a grassroots organization representing the families of children in charter schools.
And Eva Moskowitz consistently gives them compelling optics at their rallies with children, parents, and, now, teachers – dismissed from school for a “half day” that would get any superintendent in the state fired and possibly prosecuted.
Is Eva Moskowitz running a chain of schools or is she running the lobbying arm for her billionaire backers who see the expansion of the charter school sector as a means for profit and as a means to break public sector unions? Public school advocates certainly hold rallies to support public education, but we have to do so on weekends and after school hours for reasons that should similarly prohibit Success Academy and other charter schools from providing school hour props for “Families” For Excellent Schools. Our appallingly lax rules for tax exempt organizations may allow for this, but there is no reason why our charter school authorizing bodies and the legislators who write school law should tolerate this. We need our representatives in Albany to change charter school rules so that orchestrating the participation of students and teachers in obviously political events during what should be school hours is expressly prohibited.
And then maybe we should explore whether or not “Families” for Excellent Schools is actually within the allowable exempt purposes in the Internal Revenue Code, or whether it is there to use children, their families, and their teachers to enact policies that enrich its donors.
Boy, would that be interesting.